Prunella Scales starred in a BBC film of Alan Bennett's National Theatre play A Question Of Attribution in 1991, but she said it still feels quite bold to portray her in the flesh. That was enough for Netflix to require a disclaimer before every episode of The Crown, stating that the program was not actually a documentary.
However, as with most things during Elizabeth II's uniquely long reign, the protocol changed to a degree that would have been unimaginable when she was crowned in 1953. It now feels as if every actress in the country has taken their turn to wear a crown and try out a cut-glass accent. Yet, it is remarkable how sincere they have been.
Elizabeth II was caricatured in the likes of The Naked Gun (1988) and the Spitting Image satirical puppet show, but it was her scandal-prone close relatives who received treatment for long-form dramas: in a BBC film The Queens Sister (2005), Lucy Cohu played Princess Margaret as a snooty, hedonistic hot mess.
The Queen (2006) changed all of that. Produced by Stephen Frears and directed by Peter Morgan, this small-scale British film followed the Royal Family as it was shaken by the death of the sovereigns' former daughter-in-law, Princess Diana, in 1997. The film was hardly irreverent, but it allowed Elizabeth II to be a human being rather than a waxwork. She felt fear that she might have gotten lost in her subjects.
Claire Foy told Morgan that neither she nor she wanted to continue on with her legacy. Elizabeth II's weekly meetings with the various Prime Ministers who came and went during her reign became a West End play. Morgan then created his hit Netflix series, The Crown (2016), which made a star of Foy.
Princess Lilibet was a young girl (Freya Wilson) loved by her father, but she was also singled out by her grandfather (Michael Gambon) on a real occasion. In A Royal Night Out (2015), a Roman Holiday-style romance loosely based on a real occasion she was a carefree teenager (Sarah Gadon) who danced the Lindy Hop during Londons VE Celebrations in 1945.
Then comes the sphinx. From Doctor Who and James Bond, Foy was succeeded by Olivia Colman and, this November, by Imelda Staunton. However, unlike some of her supporting actors, she remained mute, reserved, and self-assured.
Spencer (2021), Pablo Larrains' feverish Princess Diana fantasy, was as close as any film to portraying Elizabeth (Stella Gonet) as the villain of the piece, but even here, she was given at least some warmth and kindness: in Steven Spielberg's Roald Dahl adaptation, The BFG (2016), she (Penelope Wilton) reduced the Big Friendly Giant to grateful tears. But no one dares to despise the Queen's stoic, restrained,
The most bold portrayals of Elizabeth II were those in which she played herself. The first was during the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics when Danny Boyle directed a short film about the Queens carrying Daniel Craigs James Bond into Buckingham Palace, 43 years after she had the title role, kind of, in Bond's On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), only to be replaced shortly afterwards.
Elizabeth II was in a sketch in which Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) appeared for a tea, and her face lit up when she confessed that she always carried a marmalade sandwich in her handbag, just in case. Even the most apprehensive republicans were enthralled by her. In her old age, nobody played the role better.